In focus…. Alison Halstead

Actor acrobat voiceover artist • Alison Halstead
Julius Caesar. photo: SRJ Photography @ Sheffield Theatres Venice Preserved  photo: Helen Maybanks @ RSC

Actor, acrobat voiceover artist – Alison Halstead

Alison Halstead, welcome to ‘In Focus’, Felix H Wilkinson’s spotlight on creatives of all kinds.  You are an actor, acrobat and voice over artist.  Tell us a bit about your history and what made you want to become a performer.

I was born in the UK and when I was 14, my family immigrated to the US. Miami. I went to a high school that had a very strong drama department. 
I loved to read as a child. A gift given to me by my mum–regular trips to the library. Stories! She gave me the gift of culture, actually: theatre, music, film, art.  All of it.
My siblings and I also played musical instruments—one of us inevitably was going to go into the arts, one way or another.  

Alison Halstead
Actor, acrobat voiceover artist. photo: Claire Newman-Williams

You live in London now. You were born in the UK but have spent many years in the US.  Can you say something from your transatlantic perspective, about the differences in experience for Black actors in the UK and US.

The business is transatlantic.  So many instances, I’m watching a show and think I’m watching actors from the US, only to hear…something.  I Google and learn that the actors are, in fact, actually, from the UK. 
One of the reasons I returned to the UK, having lived, trained and worked in the US, is because I remembered that theatre was such an intrinsic and embedded part of British life.  I remember, as a child, going to Catford Town Hall, to see pantomime. Going to Greenwich, to see a touring play, I returned to be a part of…work and thrive in…a sector of the arts that felt foundational to me.
I will say that work for Black and brown actors, here and in the US, needs to better…to be more. What stories get told and by whom.  And who are the gatekeepers. Who gets to give projects the green light.
British actors go to the US for more, better and different opportunities.  Yet, deep and urgent action continues to be required, in order to dismantle the real and systemic lack of representation, both in the UK and the US. In all areas of the industry.
Ultimately, people want to work, so we are creating our own.  We are making a way for ourselves. Creatives are carving out their own access and are nurturing opportunities.    All the stories must be told, allowing authenticity and truth to have space. Allowing all of humanity to be represented.

You are short-statured and have a blog 4footsix.  How difficult has it been to get into acting?  (You’ve performed in plays at the Royal Court, National Theatre and RSC Stratford, among many venues).  What have you found the most challenging aspects of mainstream theatre as a short statured performer?

It wasn’t hard at all to get into acting. In high school I wanted to be a Food & Nutritionist. When we immigrated to the US, the school that I attended didn’t offer any such course. I took an acting class instead, and that was that.  I then went to college and got a degree in acting.  Then, post-college, I was able to – had the privilege to – take acting classes at studios, continuing to learn and grow my craft. 
I have a vision for myself.

Honestly, the hardest part is self-belief.  As I rarely saw anyone who looked like me on stage or on-screen when I was growing up, I didn’t know if I could do the job. Even if there was a place for me. Or, if I truly had the ability…the talent.  So self-doubt.
Now, as an adult, when I get a self-tape, say, I absolutely know the answer is ‘yes’ to both space and ability. I still have to actively release the self-doubt, but the vision for myself is clear.
I’m showing up and am excited for casting directors and directors and producers to expand their perception of who needs to be a part of the story…everyone. Every body.

You are a member of a highly regarded troupe of women acrobats – MIMBRE.  Tell us about how you work together and what you love most about this aspect of your life.

I auditioned for Mimbre, many years ago.  At that time, the company consisted of three women and they were interested in expanding—having a pool of collaborators with whom to create. One of the core three was pregnant and they thought it was perfect timing.

Actor acrobat voiceover artist • Alison Halstead
Blood Wedding  photo: Viktoria Begg @ Dundee Rep/Graeae

Back then, I identified as a physical theatre performer and not as an acrobat.  The women of Mimbre saw my potential, and I was hired to create and work on the first tour that included performers who were not the founding members.
There is a language of movement in acrobatics.  Pyramids and moves have names, that acrobats know.  Each pyramid or movement has a standard way of being executed.
Because of my height, there are some standard moves/ways into pyramids, for example, that I can’t do. 
Mimbre saw…sees…my difference as an opportunity to expand the language of how something can be. 
If I can’t do something, that’s not the end.  We create a way…a new way…And, what gets created is, in fact, often, better than the standard way. More interesting.
Plus, it’s the hardest physical work I have ever done.  The strength required in order to have someone stand on one’s shoulder ain’t no joke!  When I collaborate with Mimbre, I am at my fittest—strongest—and that’s a powerful and wonderful feeling.  Plus, it’s all women.  There is something freeing and magnificent to have the space to show up as one is.  

These are desperate times for performers, artists and musicians.  So, I won’t ask about upcoming plans, but instead ask where you would like to be in five years-time, as a performer? What are you working towards?

It is my intention to work in TV and film.  The world is peopled with so much humanity.  We are currently being permitted to only see a teeny, tiny view.  I intend to change that.  To contribute to that change.
Also, I have written a play.  I love writing (back to those books from the library), and have done it off and on for years.  And, because I had time and space, the pace of my writing has accelerated, since March with, of course, the pandemic.
And, in December, supported by Mimbre, we did a week of research & development. And, from the R&D, it’s clear that the work has resonance and that I have a unique voice. So, I have continued to do real and substantial work on creating a play, from all of my writing. 

Wondrous Strange photo: Sam Farr @ Mimbre/RSC

And voiceover. I am very fortunate to say I have a home voice over booth, built this summer. Make a living in voiceover, in addition to TV & Film. 
And, pole dancing. I want to learn how to. I think I would be great at it.  I’m interested to see my short-statured body on the pole. 

To find out more about actor, acrobat, voiceover artist, Alison Halstead, visit her website and read her blog.

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